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[ 16 ] June 7, 2015 |
Four Super Hornets.jpg

“Four Super Hornets” by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Christopher L. Jordan. – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the National Interest looks at some potential triggers for US-China conflict in the South China Sea:

Nevertheless, both China and the United States are making commitments in the South China Sea that each may find difficult to back away from. Over the past two weeks, these commitments have generated a war of words that analysts of the relationship have found troubling.  The key problems focus on China’s efforts to expand (or create) islands in the Spratlys, which could theoretically provide the basis for claims to territorial waters.  The insistence of the United States on freedom of navigation could bring these tensions to a boil. Here are three ways in which tensions in the South China Sea might lead to conflict.

I’d like to say “avoid the comments,” but if you like train wrecks…


[ 47 ] June 6, 2015 |

The second in my series on Kentucky and the APAC takes a look at the bourbon industry:

People in the bourbon industry know that things could still turn around. Demand for spirits has a faddish quality, and interest in bourbon has collapsed before. Attacking the Chinese market will be key; bourbon exports to China have increased dramatically over the last decade, but thus far export to China represent only about a tenth of exports to Japan. Moreover, word has it that sales of all premium liquors have dropped in China over the past two years, apparently because of changes in gift-giving culture. And U.S. producers (not to mention Suntory) may also find ceilings on the demand for bourbon in Korea and Japan (although thepotentially lucrative North Korean market remains available)



Readings of Note…

[ 25 ] June 4, 2015 |
Soviet MiG-29 DF-ST-99-04977.JPG

“Soviet MiG-29 DF-ST-99-04977″. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

For your random Thursday reading…

Also, I got John Scalzi to yell at me:

Threat Exaggeration, Not Underbalancing

[ 95 ] June 3, 2015 |
Turkish Air Force F-16C Block 50 MOD 45157793.jpg

“Turkish Air Force F-16C Block 50 MOD 45157793″ by Photo: SAC Helen Farrer RAF Mobile News Team/MOD. Licensed under OGL via Wikimedia Commons.

This is an odd claim:

According to balance-of-power logic and by its “balance of threat” alternative, the region should have witnessed a Turkish-Saudi-Israeli alignment aimed at Iran. Pooling resources makes sense since no single state can match Iran’s power. Israel and Saudi Arabia both seem to identify Iran as their major threat, and although Turkey may not be as focused on Iran, it still worries about Iran’s growing regional reach. A Turkish-Saudi understanding makes perfect sense by the sectarian logic that many believe is driving regional politics, as both are Sunni states. But neither the trilateral nor the bilateral balancing alignment against Iran has emerged.

2015 Defense Budgets (estimated):
Saudi Arabia: $80.8 billion
Israel: $23.2 billion
Turkey: $22.6 billion
Iran: $10.2 billion

The author, Greg Gause, goes on to argue that a variety of ideological factors are leading to “underbalancing,” and thus preventing the expected anti-Iran alliance to form. I’d suggest that before we conclude that “underbalancing” is happening, we need to have some explanation for why the massive military superiority that each of the potential coalition partners enjoys over Iran isn’t actually massive military superiority. Gause doesn’t offer one; I’m guessing that maybe he thinks the Saudis don’t actually fight and thus don’t really count, but nobody seems to believe that about the Israelis or the Turks. Indeed, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone plausibly argue that Iran enjoyed a military advantage over either Israel or Turkey. And lest we forget, Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are all clients of the world’s largest military power, while Iran has no serious patron.

Thus, I’m inclined to think that there’s no puzzle here. The major Middle Eastern states have not formalized alliance arrangements to balance against Iran because they don’t need to; each enjoys presumptive military superiority over the potential aggressor, making multilateral efforts pointless. See also this discussion of Iran’s foreign policy failures.

Dangers of Overreaction

[ 11 ] June 1, 2015 |

Pakistan Air Force Chengdu JF-17 Gu.jpg

“Pakistan Air Force Chengdu JF-17 Gu” by Shimin Gu – Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons.

A summary of Wikistrat’s sim on China in Latin America (which I contributed to) is up at HuffPo.

As alarming as this sounds, it shouldn’t spur an over-reaction from the U.S. Wikistrat’s analysis determined that China could have no more than a marginal regional impact, even under the best case assumptions. Washington has no need to respond aggressively to growing Chinese influence, even if Beijing makes a conscious decision to target the region.

Our Kind Has Had it Relatively Easy

[ 10 ] May 31, 2015 |
Marcus Aurelius Denarius2.jpg

“Marcus Aurelius Denarius2″ by Rasiel Suarez – Tantalus Coins, uploaded by Rasiel Suarez. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia

If you’ve managed to accumulate a few quatloos as the result of a successful gambling/drinking binge, you might want to toss a small portion of your ill-gotten gains at long-term-ally-of-the-blog Lance Mannion.


[ 51 ] May 31, 2015 |
Armata MBT

“4mayrehearsal 05″ by Vitaly V. Kuzmin – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I spend my days thinking about tanks, when I’m not thinking about T-ball:

Russia has a new tank… maybe.  Several National Interest articles have followed the development of the Armata family of armored vehicles, a system that breaks with long-term Russian tradition in construction, design, and (probably) means of employment.

How much should the United States worry about the Armata, and where should that concern lie?  The impressive nature of the tank notwithstanding, the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps are unlikely to encounter it directly on the battlefield.  The bigger questions involve how the Armata might change the global market for armored vehicles, and how the tank might become part of the arsenals of Russian proxies.

Kentucky and the APAC

[ 1 ] May 29, 2015 |
Toyota carlogo.svg

“Toyota carlogo” by Unknown – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The first in a series of posts looking at the relationship between the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the Asia Pacific is up at the Diplomat:

TMMK came to Kentucky during a period of stress between Japan and the United States, with Washington making near-constant complaints about Japanese trade practices. The wounds of World War II were fresher in the 1980s than they are today. The Kentucky state government pushed hard against this tide, making clear that Toyota was welcome in the area. Indeed, many argued that it pushed too hard; the inducement package produced protests, and became a key issue in the 1987 Kentucky gubernatorial campaign.

Foreign Entanglements: Indonesia’s Burning Boats

[ 0 ] May 28, 2015 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, I speak with Natalie Sambhi about Indonesian politics and foreign relations:

Listicles of Late…

[ 22 ] May 26, 2015 |

Screenshot 2015-05-26 12.05.48I’ve been slow on posting some recent listicles.  Five big procurement decisions the US needs to make within the next decade:

These decisions go beyond questions of military necessity; they require a level of national deliberation that has become sorely lacking. The post-Cold War glow, followed by the desperate efforts to piece together victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, have made long-range procurement planning difficult, and have put off big decisions that need to happen as part of a national conversation, rather than a technocratic debate between the Pentagon and the services.

Here are five of the biggest decisions that the Pentagon, and by extension the nation, faces over the course of the next decade.

See also Five Deadliest Israeli Weapons, and Five Deadliest Russian Air Force weapons.

RIP John and Alicia Nash

[ 41 ] May 24, 2015 |


John Forbes Nash Jr., the Princeton University mathematician whose life story was the subject of the film “A Beautiful Mind,” and his wife of nearly 60 years died Saturday in a taxi crash on the New Jersey Turnpike, police said.

Nash was 86. Alicia Nash was 82. The couple lived in Princeton Junction.

The Nashes were in a taxi traveling southbound in the left lane of the New Jersey Turnpike, State Police Sgt. Gregory Williams said. The driver of the Ford Crown Victoria lost control as he tried to pass a Chrysler in the center lane, crashing into a guard rail.

Airpower and the Pivot

[ 4 ] May 24, 2015 |
F-15 wingtip vortices.jpg

“F-15 wingtip vortices”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

At the Diplomat, I talk a bit about the flexibility of airpower in context of the Pacific Pivot:

More broadly, the extent of the campaign indicates that what airpower theorists like to call the “inherent flexibility of airpower” cannot resolve the major resource issues associated with the pivot (or, if you prefer, the rebalance). Implicit in the rebalance is the idea that the United States can still use airpower, and long range naval strike, to solve security problems around the world, even as it focuses the bulk of its efforts on managing China.  If fighting a group as small as ISIS requires a long-term commitment of U.S. power, with attendant demands on allies and infrastructure, then the logic underpinning the pivot begins to unravel.  This is especially the case if the United States cannot escape the political pressures that continue to draw it into Europe and the Middle East.


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